New Orleans Archdiocese projects $40 million deficit by end of year

By Nancy Frazier O'Brien
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As the Archdiocese of New Orleans took small steps back to normalcy after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, archdiocesan officials estimated a negative cash flow of $40 million by the end of the year.

The projection was based on assumptions about drastically reduced parish giving and income from federal grants that are used to operate many Catholic Charities programs.

Millions more could be needed to repair or rebuild facilities damaged by the hurricane, depending on whether insurers assess the damage as flood-related or wind-related.

Although the archdiocese's insurance coverage for wind-related damage provides for full replacement value, it has only about $13 million in flood insurance. A preliminary assessment of about 50 archdiocesan buildings indicated there was at least $84 million in flood damage, leaving a shortfall of more than $70 million.

The archdiocese hopes that regulations of the Federal Emergency Management Agency will allow for the reimbursement for cleanup of nonchurch facilities such as schools and residences. Under the current regulations, cleanup of churches is not reimbursable.

Although the archdiocese kept all of its approximately 9,000 employees on full salary through the end of September, it recently notified them that an unknown number would be laid off Oct. 3 and receive two weeks of severance pay.

On the positive side, New Orleans Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes celebrated Mass for the first time since the Aug. 29 hurricane at St. Louis Cathedral in the city's French Quarter. The archdiocese, which has been operating out of the Diocese of Baton Rogue, La., since the storm hit, also began a census of parishioners scattered throughout the country on its Web site, www.archdiocese-no.org.

In addition to information about each family member, his or her current location and contact information, and the parish and/or school attended, the census asks whether the family planned to return to New Orleans or relocate permanently. It also asks those responding to the census to "describe your most pressing need at this time."

Meanwhile, the special task force of U.S. bishops created in response to Hurricane Katrina and Rita held its first meeting Sept. 27 in Atlanta. The task force, chaired by Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, was joined by representatives of leading Catholic charitable organizations.

"It was a good first step in the work of the task force, setting the stage for future efforts by all involved," Archbishop Fiorenza said in a statement.

A news release on the meeting said the group "heard firsthand the needs and priorities of the bishops of the region" and then focused on "the coordination and communication necessary to meet these needs and priorities most effectively ... and what needs to be done to enhance the collaboration between the various agencies and the affected dioceses."

Archbishop Hughes, Bishop Robert W. Muench of Baton Rouge, La., Bishop William B. Friend of Shreveport, La., and Bishop Thomas J. Rodi of Biloxi, Miss., attended the Atlanta meeting.

Organizations participating in the task force include the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Church Extension Society, Catholic Communication Campaign, Catholic Health Association, Catholic Relief Services, Knights of Columbus, Knights of Peter Claver, National Catholic Educational Association, National Religious Retirement Office, Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and the U.S. bishops' Migration and Refugee Services and their Secretariat for Home Missions.

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Contributing to this story was Peter Finney Jr. in Baton Rouge.

Copyright (c) 2005 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

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